A few years ago, I lived in North Dakota. It’s beautiful up there – endless prairies, miles of sunflowers in late summer, and snowpiles taller than me. I think the cold messed with my head because I actually kinda miss those winters. For the past year or so I’ve been on a Frigid Northlands kick, listening to Icelandic bands while writing about Vikings and planning my roadtrip to Hudson Bay to search for selkies.
This week’s book, “The End of the Trail,” is not about Vikings. But it could be. It’s about a saltminer living on the cliffs above his saltmine, a barren wasteland (like North Dakota in the winter) that’s claimed the lives of everyone he loves. He lives on because of inertia and the belief that maybe, someday, there’ll be more for him. He doesn’t fit in with the people around him in the dying kingdom, and he doesn’t fit in with the nobility in the nearby castle with a dying king. He wants to, though. He doesn’t want to accept his fate – to die amid rumors, only to be forgotten as time takes the vivacity from the stories – but he’s not adverse to holding onto happiness in any form he can, even if he’ll end up in obscurity more quickly in the end.
The prose in this story is beautiful, and it’s worth picking up for that alone. Throw in a story about when to fight and when to settle, when to press on and when to give up, and this could be one of the best shorts you read.
The music of Sólstafir, especially “Lágnætti,” pairs perfectly with “The End of the Trail.” Even if you don’t speak Icelandic (which I don’t) and have no idea what the lyrics are, you get the sense of a search for an inarticulate more that might not even matter in the end.